So started my trip to the Bandera 100K. "Yeah, no problem," I answered back to the portly uniformed man, as if he were giving me a choice. I was certain I was getting busted for a canister of powdered Gatorade given the recent scare with "granular substances." The officer quickly removed nearly everything from my bag, it's contents readily revealing the nature of my trip: running shoes, sports bras, gels, water bottles, even the Gatorade got passed over with barely a glance. But remember my headlight that I had so cleverly rigged for Hundred in the Hood with my McGyver skills? Yeah, well TSA didn't think it was so clever.
Umm... is "crapping our pants" an official TSA term and am I supposed to feel more secure knowing that the TSA personnel are going to soil themselves when a real emergency occurs?? Anyway, after being removed from the terrorist list, I made it to Texas without further incidence.
My original reason for going to Bandera was to try to win a spot for Western States. But back when I was looking at the entrants in November, the list looked pretty beatable. I guess I wasn't the only one to notice this because right after the WS lottery several fast names appeared on the list: Annette Bednosky, Aliza Lapierre, and Jill Perry, as well as two former Bandera champions (Marcy Beard and Melanie Fryar). No longer needing a WS spot, my goal morphed into Waldo redemption and starting the year out with a good race (specifically, I wanted to go under the old course record of 11:18, but I wouldn't have admitted that ahead of time).
Race morning came was freezing (no, worse it was 14 degrees!), but it was sunny and clear. My gloved fingers were in pain from the cold and a thin layer of ice would form on the nipples of my water bottles between uses!
Bandera is two repeated loops of a 50k course. Looking at the available splits from previous years (2008 and 2009), I was immediately impressed by how much everybody slowed down on the second lap. Only 4 people (all men, total = 204 finishers) completed the second lap within 40 minutes of their first lap time (average was greater that an hour slower!). I certainly understand the concept of fatigue, but I thought the best strategy would be to aim for splits as even as possible. The first lap my mantra was "Leave room for improvement." Consequently, I walked a lot of the smaller hills (and all the big hills) and I stayed behind people rather than passing. In fact, for the first 12 miles I ran with a guy targeting a 15 hour finish.
The first section has a couple of good rocky climbs and the second section had several boulder strewn rollers, but the third section was actually the killer in the first loop, precisely because it was far and away the easiest section of the course - flat trails through grassy fields with pretty smooth trail. This section lured one into running faster because it was so easy and I succumbed: 5.8 miles in 50 min. That didn't really "leave room for improvement!" But I settled back in through the next hillier sections until the end of the first loop. Annette was at the aid station which surprised me a bit because I thought she was farther ahead of me. I left to start my second loop at 5:11 just ahead of her. I was feeling pretty good, but already my appetite was going south. I wasn't sick at all, there just wasn't much that sounded good. I was running scared back to AS1(now 7), knowing that Annette was right behind me and knowing that I wanted to go close to my first split. At the AS I grabbed some pretzels, but spit them out after chewing them to a pulp because I couldn't swallow them without gagging. I was two minutes off my first split.
The next section I think was the hardest for me. My energy was starting to falter and it was mentally rough because I knew I still had 20 miles after getting to the next Aid Station. By the time I got to Chapas (AS#2 and 8), I knew I had to get some food in me, so I reluctantly accepted a cup of soup and stayed until I got it all down. Four minutes slower on this split, but a lot of that was at the aid station.
Then it was back to the easy section. Wouldn't you know it, that's where I take my only fall of the day! I banged up my knee and dislodged a water bottle, but there was no real damage. That section I felt like I was dragging, but I was only 2 minutes slower. When I got to Cross Roads (~mile 48), I was happy to see Sean Meissner there, done with his 50K and out to cheer.
"Hey, Sean, you wanna run some more? I could use the company!" I begged. He seemed interested but he didn't have any running gear. So we agreed he'd go change while I did the 4.25 mile loop back to Cross Roads.
As I left Sean yelled, "Keep it up. She is only a couple of minutes ahead of you!"
I looked back at him and wondered what he was talking about. "Who??" I queried.
"Jill," he answers back. Hmmm, well now that was encouraging. But the knowledge didn't seem to help my running, as this split was my biggest discrepancy from the first (6 min). When I got back to Cross Roads, Sean wasn't there yet and I didn't want to lose time waiting so I took off. I was even more discouraged because a sign leaving the aid station said "10.7 miles to go," but I was sure I remembered the last two legs to be 4.7 and 5.0 miles, so where did that extra mile come from?? (answer: bad math! Really it was just too cold to think!). I even asked the cook if this was right, but he just laughed and said, "10.7 miles is just a short run for you guys!"
Extra mile or not, I was smelling the barn at that point plus I was catching some of the 50k stragglers which was motivating and got back to just a couple minutes off my first loop split.
When I got to Last Chance, Sean was waiting for me and I was so glad to have some company. Plus, he got me to try some watered down Coke when I told him I wasn't eating much. In real life I hate Coke (and all dark sodas, except root beer) - too syrupy with a completely artificial flavor. But after 57 miles this stuff was like the elixir of life. I started sucking it down and it perked me up, plus Sean made sure I kept moving.
The next half hour passed quickly as I chatted with Sean and twilight came. We knew we were going to easily come in under 11 hours, so we set a new goal: to finish without turning on my headlamp. Two miles later, we hit the dirt road for the last quarter mile and I gave a final push to the finish, crossing the line in 10:36:17 - with my light OFF and a 1 minute negative split! I only had a fourteen minute difference between loops! - more consistent than any of the 2008 or 2009 splits. (Thanks, Sean, for pointing this out. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on the aid station guys that couldn't add, given my bad math). Annette was just minutes behind, also without the use of her lamp.
Jill and Aliza were at the finish and there were hugs all around for our speedy quartet that had completely obliterated the old course record (11:18). I was stumbling tired, my face was a salt-lick and I was covered in dirt all along my right side from my fall, but Aliza and Jill were as cute and peppy as school girls! They were telling how Jill caught Aliza with a half mile to go and they decided to duke it out to the finish but ended up dead even, sharing the victory. The pair finished just over 3 minutes ahead of me, for an unbelievably tight spread for the top 4 ladies! The top two men, Nick Clark and Chikara Omine, also went under the old course record, so it was a fast day all around!(results)
Afterward, a group of us took the town of Bandera by storm, celebrating the day with margaritas and other libations. And don't forget food! We had a great time joking about the day, talking about future race plans and bonding over things only ultra-runners could understand (like why it is actually a good thing when your toenails fall off!). Before running Waldo, I said I felt like the biggest kid at the children's table, just waiting to move up. Hanging out with amazing runners (and all around great people) after a fantastic day of running definitely felt like I had been invited to the adult table!
As a substitute for the traditional bronze medal, at the breakfast I was awarded a most unique rock and metal elephant, which I assure you was not light! Worried about further arousing TSA suspicion, I made sure to send that bad boy through the x-ray in a bin by itself. There were still plenty of questions, but none related to me being a threat to national security!Bandera was a great experience, and with a time three hours and five minutes better than my Where's Waldo time, I feel like I got my redemption! And last (but not least!), an extra special thanks has to go out to all the volunteers who were out there freezing their butts off in miserable cold, just to make sure we kept ours moving - thank you! You won't be hearing any complaints from me about this event, which is good, because I think they would have fallen on deaf ears: